11-18 2018

OneNote for Linux?

Many Linux users are craving for a port of OneNote. Microsoft kept quiet about this. Now a OneNote developer has made a more specific statement.

According to many forums, most Linux fans are not very interested in Microsoft porting their applications to the free operating system. Usually, they rather point to Libre Office or Thunderbird and emphasize, that digital life works very well without MS Office. OneNote, as well as its competitor Evernote, seem different cases though. The programs are simply too useful and unlike Word or Excel, there is no open source equivalent. The call for a OneNote implementation for Linux is loud, but Microsoft remains silent about it.

Now Nick Andre, one of the (update: former) OneNote co-developers in Redmond has talked a bit about OneNote and Linux. I will summarise his remarks with my own words. Here you can read the original text on Reddit.

According to Nick, OneNote is using completely different (executable) code on different platforms. A native Linux version would require considerable programming effort. In addition, OneNote uses some code shared with other Office modules. None of this has ever been ported to Linux. A native,”real” Linux version is therefore quite impossible.

Only option: Wine

Nick considers it possible, to improve Wine-Support (Note from the author: A kind of Windows library collection, that makes some Windows programs run properly under Linux), so that Office runs better there. One of the main problems of Win32 programs (Win32 stands for the previous architecture of Windows programs in contrast to the new Windows 10 UWP apps) is: There are bugs (in Windows) and many programs rely on or are constructed around them. The makers of Wine would have to spend a lot of effort to make it “bug-compatible”, i. e. to rebuild or simulate practically all existing Windows bugs.

There are other obstacles: The new distribution mechanism of Office called “Click-to-Run” is very sophisticated and eliminates the previous nightmare of MSI installations (because users can basically have any combination of individual patches installed there, which makes support extremely costly). However, the “voodoo magic level” of the click-to-run technique is very high and Nick doubts that Wine will be able to cope with it. According to user reports, it really seems impossible to activate a Click-to-Run Office 365 under Wine.

Things are even worse when it comes to the OneNote UWP (Windows 10) app. It is not a Win32 application but relies on the appx format, which does not exist at all under Wine.

Apart from using OneNote Online in the web browser, Nick believes that there is only one option for Linux users: the combination of Wine and a “conservative” MSI installer version (e. g. from an MS Office setup DVD) from Office 2013. That version is still getting security patches and the latest MSI version is – if fully updated – not so far from the first click-to-run versions. According to his knowledge, this should work out quite well under Wine, even if he is not sure whether everything really works (he thinks of handwriting recognition and search engines, for example). There are also third-party solutions that are designed to increase the compatibility of Wine (author’s note: it probably refers to something like the paid Crossover by Codeweaver).

Generally, he would love to see a OneNote clone in Libre Office (Author’s note: His smiley at the end of this closing phrase seems a bit like “well if you think you can do it, go ahead!”).

All in all not much of a surprise, but at least a “semi-official” rejection of a Linux OneNote. After all, there was a little bit of background here from a OneNote developer, who even showed a little bit of understanding and empathy.

My 5 cent

I would like to add a personal comment here: As a Microsoft employee, Nick Andre will, of course, be careful not to talk about business interests or company policy. But while many Linux fans are calling OneNote on Linux an “absolute necessity”, this question must be allowed: Why should it be a necessity from Microsoft’s point of view? OneNote is no longer a separately sold product. Microsoft is moving its business from software boxes to services, such as the Office 365 subscription. Microsoft’s interest in generating subscribers and service customers is self-evident; OneNote has long been marketed and developed as part of these services (therefore also the restriction to Microsoft Clouds storage or the provision of new features only for Office subscribers). As long as no full-blown Office 365 is ported to Linux, OneNote alone makes little to no sense at all from Microsoft’s point of view. And if there were serious reasons for Microsoft to port the complete Office suite to Linux, why wouldn’t they have already done or at least announced it? So I consider it highly unlikely, that something will change Microsoft’s mind and a native Office (or OneNote) version will ever come to Linux. But what do I know?

 

 

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